Written by Gideon Joubert
Last week the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Police released its 5-point plan to curb criminal access to firearms. The release of the plan coincides with an apparent increase in cash-in-transit heists plaguing the country. As we are well aware, the weapons used by criminals in these heists are usually fully-automatic rifles of AK-type (AK47s, AKMs, and Type 56s) or R-series (R1, R4, R5). Legally armed civilians weren’t the source of these guns. These weapons either come from struggle-era arms caches, are smuggled across our borders, or are sourced from the SAPS and SANDF.
It is therefore heartening to see that the PPC is addressing the aforementioned problems specifically. Committee Chairman Francois Beukman explains the 5-point plan as follows:
- Channel more resources to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigationʼs specialised unit focusing on illegal firearms.
- Implement more projects and network operations initiated by crime intelligence to deal with gun smuggling by criminal syndicates.
- Enforce stricter control measures in South African Police Services (SAPS) stores and stations, and also in the arms supply of the South African National Defence Force.
- Ensure closer cooperation with other South African Development Community countries to deal with the proliferation and inflow of high calibre automatic firearms in the region.
- Conduct a full-scale review of the Firearms Registry turn-around strategy and a forensic audit of high-risk areas in the licencing of firearms, as well as permits and authorisations.
As we previously established, the SAPS lose firearms at a rate approximately 8 times higher than private citizens. Additionally, lost and stolen civilian firearms are recovered at a rate 15 times higher than lost and stolen state firearms. Clearly the government are far worse custodians of their firearms than civilians are. That the PPC acknowledges this fact is evident from their response plan.
We have long lamented that lawful firearm owners are unfairly and irrationally blamed as the source for criminal weapons. This is the first time in recent memory where Parliament is actually addressing the exact causal factors we have been complaining about for years. I therefore applaud Francois Beukman and the committee for coming up with a multifaceted strategy which is grounded in reality.
Tracking and shutting down firearm smuggling syndicates via the use of crime intelligence and special units makes perfect sense. Auditing and holding the security forces accountable for their armouries and stores is a necessity. Targeting the cross-border flow of illicit arms and ammunition is certainly a good idea. Identifying and dealing with corrupt elements within the firearms registry is likewise needed.
Another inescapable fact is that amendments to the FCA are overdue, and we will at some point be faced with another proposal in that regard.
The previously proposed amendments were scrapped after vehement opposition were raised against them in 2015. They contained numerous arbitrary and unworkable elements, such as all firearms being subject to ballistic fingerprinting and microdots. I hope that valuable lessons were learned from this experience.
It is vital that the next proposal be devoid of pseudoscience, and presents practical changes to the act. Firearm owners and their representative organizations have a critically important role to play to ensure that this is the case. From what I have personally experienced in Parliament, and which is again illustrated here, is that the PPC is willing to listen to our concerns. We would be very foolish to waste this relationship.
Gideon is the owner and editor of Paratus